Oh Volunteer!
Helen Dowd

I was inspired to write this poem after spending some time in the hospital. One of my roommates was an elderly lady, confined to a wheelchair. She could not say a word, but on her face was a constant smile. It was obvious that she was a favorite amongst the nurses, and words were not necessary for her to convey her acceptance of her circumstances...Seeing the lady like this, brought to mind the time I spent working in a care home, and noticing the many volunteers who came in to visit the residents. Some were so overwhelmed by the folks they saw, sitting helpless in their wheelchairs, or slumping in the lounge, that all they could do was stare. I wondered what one of these voiceless people would say, given the chance.

Don't look at me like I'm not here, then shake your head and sigh.
Don't shrivel up or slink away when I look you in the eye.
I am a person just like you -- I hear; I see; I cry.
So what if I can't talk to you. Don't think that I don't try.
One day perhaps you'll be the same, one day before you die.

I know you think, as you walk the halls and see me in my chair,
that because I slump and drool and choke and require constant care,
that I am useless, without a brain, just a burden on Medicare.
Well if I could talk, oh Volunteer, I'd say you're quite unfair:
I've been a mother, teacher; and the school board I did chair.

Don't look at me like I'm not here. Don't look the other way.
Just talk to me like I am real, not a statue made of clay.
If you feel nervous about my state, then please, friend, stay away.
There are folks a-plenty who come to stare -- false sympathy display.
Please do not come to see me if my looks will spoil your day.

But if you're truly interested in helpless folk like me,
then please, by all means stick around. To visit, please feel free.
I'd like to hear about your life, or what your work might be.
I'd love to have you wheel me out to have a cup of tea,
Or take me to the lawn where I could hear a chickadee.

I'd love it, if you come again, if you would bring a flower
to sweeten up my room where there are always smells so sour.
If you'd look with me at old snapshots and stay at least an hour,
then when you're gone I'd sit and dream of my home, with leavy bower.
So Volunteer, if you'll do this, my thanks on you I'll shower.

You'll see next time you come around how thankful I can be.
I'll have a little gift for you. I'll pat you on the knee.
We'll have a splendid party with some biscuits and some tea.
And perhaps some lively music in the lounge with the settee.
If you really want to volunteer and my companion be,
then I'll look forward to each day that you can visit me.

Helen Dowd



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